Commentary: Social media and influencer culture are changing the fashion industry

Social media and influencer culture, fast fashion
Photo courtesy of Artem Beliaikin
This article was written by Liv Clizbe, freshman Boise State student majoring in Digital Innovation and Design Major and minoring in Ethics and Argument.

The fashion industry is always changing and moving in new directions. However, one thing that has stayed relatively the same for a long period of time is the presence of major fashion houses and editors — as well as the power that they have over the entire fashion industry.

If you look back in time, you can see the major exclusivity that has always been prevalent in fashion, and, in a lot of respects, still is today. But while gatekeeping and exclusivity still exists within the industry, fashion has also never been more accessible.

“In many ways, social media has democratized fashion,” wrote lifestyle blogger Simone Suber, of

Back when big-name designers reigned supreme, smaller and more affordable brands made for the everyday person would take their inspiration from those designers. A fashion house would make a collection, they would show it during fashion week and about a year later you could buy a similar style in your local mall. This is how trends were created.

“For most of the past century, fashion has been a top-down system, in which the way the majority of people dressed was dictated by a cabal of designers and magazine editors,” wrote fashion journalist Isabel Slone in a guest essay for the New York Times..  

However, once social media came along, everything changed.

Social media and influencer culture, fast fashion
Photo courtesy of Artem Beliaikin

Now, it’s much more common for the consumers to dictate the trend cycles. Brands look to their audience and to social media to get inspiration for their new pieces instead of looking to the major fashion houses.

I got a first-hand look at this during my gap year when I spent my days working at the well-known teen clothing store Brandy Melville. I worked in the Walnut Creek, California, location and I was often in contact with Stephan Marsan, the owner and co-founder of the brand. 

Marsan would have me and other employees send him photos of our outfits, as well as the outfits of customers and pieces that we found on Pintrest or the Instagram pages of our favorite influencers. 

This was known as “product research” within the company. This is pretty much how the higher ups, like Marsan, would decide what clothing to put out. The trends were entirely dictated by the consumers and the employees. 

In other words, the people wearing the brand’s clothes actually influenced what the company would produce.

Apps like Instagram and Tik Tok have been at the forefront for this change. All it takes is for one influencer to wear a piece or for one Tik Tok to go viral in order for a small business to blow up and become the next major trend. 

People who work hard and make their pieces in an ethical and sustainable way are now getting the chances that their predecessors never did. 

Fashion stylist Joyce Gereige wrote about this phenomenon in an article for Grazia magazine in 2020.

“Models, designers and emerging creatives have been discovered through their videos,” Gereige wrote. “It has brimmed the conversation on sustainability, trends and fashion history, inviting its audience to engage with its content beyond the likes.” 

While bigger name brands are still knocking off small brands in the hopes of stealing their designs and hard work without anyone noticing, social media has made it easier than ever for those brands to fight back and get the recognition and justice that they deserve.

“Diet Prada” is a well known Instagram account with almost 3 million followers. This account is known for calling out the wrong doings of bigger fashion companies and supporting the smaller brands who were so often squashed by their larger competitors. 

It’s evident that the fashion industry has had major shifts in the last 20 years or so, and its most notable changes being in the last five to 10 years. 

As social media grows, it becomes easier and easier to do your research on a brand and to find out who deserves your money and support. 

These changes have taken the power away from the gatekeepers of the fashion industry and given it to the people. We decide what’s popular and, while there is still a very long way to go, this has made fashion more inclusive than ever.

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